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Moss column: The 'no grow' movement is winning

We’ve taken a deep dive this week into our county’s history of nimbyism — the efforts to block developments that residents perceive as harmful.


Our sense is that Not In My Back Yard has become a sort of ad hoc political party, ready to activate at a moment’s notice in any corner of the county, easily stirred into action, hard to resist because it’s asking for something that costs nothing — just say no. Nimbyism feeds on mistrust of government, which spans the political spectrum and is at an all-time high.
Our look back at the last 50 years of nimby fights was both inspiring and unsettling. In this special in-depth issue, we amply cover the modern-day grassroots movement that started it all — a feisty citizens’ army that slew a massive TVA dam project.
Reading James Brittain’s account of the saga in “Gun Fights, Dam Fights and Water Rights,” I became intrigued with how consistent the pattern had become.
A handful of homeowners directly affected by a disruptive land use springs into action. They are passionate, persistent and tireless — and unwilling to take no for an answer. They rally others to their cause, convincing people from a much wider area that the threat is real. If the government approves rental units a mile down the road, are you really safe?
The movement peels off earlier supporters, often getting political bodies to walk back an endorsement or reverse it outright. That’s what happened when the Henderson County Board of Commissioners, determined for months to remain neutral on the Duke Energy transmission line, adopted a resolution jointly drafted with the Hendersonville City Council. That’s what opponents hope will happen next week when the Flat Rock Village Council once again hosts a roomful of activists hoping to scuttle the Highland Lake Road widening.

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For once, the North Carolina Department of Transportation, recognizing that the state line does not stop at I-77, is ready to spend tax dollars where they come from, here in Hendersonville and Henderson County.
We’re throwing it all away.
Mills River is throwing away the chance to turn N.C. 191 into a handsome eastern gateway with a grassy median and bike lanes and sidewalks. Elected leaders there insist on cross-traffic left turns on an undivided highway.
Residents want the Laurel Park Town Board to reverse its wise decision — courageous even, in this climate —to endorse the U.S. 64 widening project with a grassy median, bike lanes, sidewalks and roundabouts — improvements that would look good and move traffic efficiently. Opponents are working overtime to block the Kanuga Road widening and a bridge on Boyd Drive.
An appreciation for our impressive nimby past can only lead to a reasonable prediction that residents will rise up to oppose the Balfour Parkway, the most significant new highway improvement in Hendersonville in a generation.
Our county government has said no to 300 units of rental housing — twice — in the past 10 months. The Hendersonville City Council shot down a request for 126 senior apartments. Flummoxed by the power and persistence of the nimby assemblies month after month, county commissioners are even considering a moratorium on growth. Talk about a failure of planning.

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It’s fine, even laudable, that our county has produced nimby alliances that unite rich and poor, liberal and conservative, city mouse and country mouse to defeat demonstrably harmful projects like the Stony Mountain incinerator, Duke Power’s transmission line, the TVA dam, even the Blue Ridge Bike Bash. But we would distinguish those broad-based ecumenical movements from narrowly based uprisings that block roads, bridges and parking lots and prevent housing units the market is suggesting we could fill.
It’s easy to sell a parade of horribles: the snarl of a chainsaw, clear-cutting of a forest, condemnation of private property, “dampening” curves to make racetracks, frightening roundabouts. The apocalypse is upon us and the developer gets rich.
But as an eighth-generation native friend of mine observed in a conversation about all this, the folks in Hawthorn Hills and Hunters Crossing and Crooked Creek would not rest in their lovely homes tonight if adjoining property owners had objected years ago to turning farms into subdivisions or clearing a woodsy ridge for homesites.
Make no mistake: The nimbys have the right to peaceably assemble, to speak and to petition the government. After they have spoken, it’s up to our elected leaders to, well, lead. If a road improvement or bridge is needed for safety and traffic flow, if a property owner wants to build cottages for retirees, if children squeal on a playground … then maybe it’s time for the grownups in the room to make the tough call today with tomorrow in mind.

Contact Lightning editor Bill Moss at